Archive for May, 2007
Two weeks ago, I flew from Charlotte, NC to Newark, NJ while torrential thunderstorms covered most of the northeast. As a result, my 3:20 flight was delayed six hours, leaving at 9:30pm, and ultimately getting me home well after midnight.
Well, yesterday, I was on the 7:30 flight out of Charlotte. The weather was beautiful in both cities. The planes were where they were supposed to be. The crews were available and ready to take off. All the stars had aligned. So?
A 90 minute delay.
It seems Air Force One was on a runway in Newark airport, causing Newark to issue a full ground stop (as is normal procedure for Air Force One) until President Bush departed. Now, to be fair, I got on standby for the 6:30 flight, and made it home at around the expected time, but still – we were so close to an on-time departure!
That settles it – I’m definitely not voting for that guy again…
We recorded the American Idol finale last night on our DVR, and watched it back about a half hour after it started. Great show. Excellent musical acts, such as Tony Bennett, Gladys Knight, and Smokey Robinson (who, I’m sorry, looks like he went to a plastic surgeon one day and said, “I’d like to look surprised for the rest of my life.”). Anyway, the show ran it’s allotted two hours. At the end, they went to commercial, and when the commerical was over, the recording ended! They didn’t announce the winner!!!
Turns out the show ran about 6 minutes long, so anyone who DVR’ed, TiVo’ed or otherwise recorded it using some automated, Guide-based system entirely missed the announcement of the winner. We had to go out on the web & find out who won (for those who still don’t know, it was Jordin Sparks).
Of course, through the wonder of YouTube, I can watch those last 6 minutes at my convenience. And now, so can you:
First of all, it’s worth noting that more people voted for this year’s American Idol than voted for George W. Bush for President in 2004. About 10 million more!
Given the final two, I think it was the right choice. I also think it doesn’t matter much at all. Last season produced three big stars (Taylor Hicks, Katherine McPhee, and Chris Daughtry) and two smaller ones (Elliot Yamin and Bucky Covington). This season will produce four big stars (Jordin Sparks, Blake Lewis, Melinda Doolittle, and Lakisha Jones), two smaller ones (Chris Richardson and Phil Stacy) and one bizarre one (Sanjaya Malakar). The winner has a small advantage with promotion, but not that much.
That said, if you ask me who the best singer was, though, I think my vote would have gone to Melinda. C’est la vie…
CAIRO, Egypt – Customs officers at Cairo’s airport on Thursday detained a man bound for Saudi Arabia who was trying to smuggle 700 live snakes on a plane, airport authorities said.
The officers were stunned when a passenger, identified as Yahia Rahim Tulba, after being asked to open his carryon bag, told them it contained live snakes.
The Egyptian said he had hoped to sell the snakes in Saudi Arabia. Police confiscated the snakes and turned Tulba over to the prosecutor’s office, accusing him of violating export laws and endangering the lives of other passengers.
A study from the American Psychological Association has shown that people tend to believe that an opinion they hear frequently is the majority opinion, even if they only hear it from a small number of people:
The studies found that an opinion is more likely to be assumed to be the majority opinion when multiple group members express their opinion. However, the study also showed that hearing one person express the same opinion multiple times had nearly the same effect on listener’s perception of the opinion being popular as hearing multiple people state his/her opinion.
Researchers examined the underlying processes that take place when individuals estimate the shared attitude of a group of people and how that estimation of collective opinion can be influenced by repetition from a single source. Since gauging public opinion is such an essential component in guiding our social interactions, this research has implications in almost every facet of modern day life.
I find this fascinating in light of the current state of political discourse in the country. Much is often made about George W. Bush’s 29% approval rating, and I’ve often wondered if the constant repetition of this fact sways people who may otherwise have different opinions from saying so when they’re polled.
This study would seem to validate that assumption. Or, to state it more generally, the increased exposure we all have to media today probably tends to push opinion polls to the outer extremes. In other words, things are more likely to be 80-90% popular or 80-90% unpopular than they are to be 50%/50%.
It’s a good thing to keep in mind the next time President Bush is called the “most unpopular president in history,” or when each of the upcoming summer blockbusters successively breaks the record for biggest money maker of all time.
My wife and I are big fans of the Deal or No Deal game show, despite Defective Yeti’s accurate assessment of the show:
A contestant comes on and is given an amount of money between one cent and a million bucks. That’s it. That’s the entire program. Everything else is suspenseful music and reaction shots.
Lately, though, I’ve found myself rooting for the show itself, and for it’s host, Howie Mandel, rather than for the contestants.
As the Yeti points out above, there is no real way for the contestant to lose. Everyone walks away with some amount of money between $.01 and $1 million. But the show is trying like hell to create those “very special moments,” and every time they do, it falls flat on it’s face.
There was the special Valentine’s Day show, where everything was in pink and someone proposed marriage to the contestant. I think she walked away with $50. There was Ladies Night, where all the cases were held by men and the contestants were female. Again, no one won a significant amount of money. A couple of weeks ago, they had their 100th Episode Special, with dozens of former contestants in the audience and guest spots by some celebrities (including Jay Leno & Regis Philbin, who pooh-pooh’ed the 100th episode as no big deal…). They picked their favorite past contestant (who won $10 the first time) to play the game again. Big dramatic build up, right? In his second chance, he won $50.
But the ultimate blow was this past week. In a “Salute to Heroes” show, they had Wesley Autrey as the contestant. Wesley, you’ll remember, dove under a New York City subway train to save a total stranger who had fallen onto the tracks. President Bush called him a national hero in the most recent State of the Union. Models and audience members alike were in tears over the story. He started picking cases, and eventually worked the bank offer up to more than $300,000. But no matter what they offered him, he kept saying “No Deal” in hopes of winding up with one million dollars. Eventually, he picked the million dollar case, and wound up leaving with $25. Both Howie Mandel and the audience were so stunned by his lack of success (and his unwillingness to take the money and run), that there wasn’t even that much of a crowd reaction when Howie revealed that Chrysler had given him a free car in addition to his “winnings.”
Next week, they’re going to do the entire show on some unsuspecting contestant’s front lawn. Another “must see” episode. Another chance to give away a couple of bucks…
– Watch 12 episodes of your favorite sitcom.
– Walk a marathon (avg speed = 4.4 mph)
– Cook 120 three-minute eggs (one at a time)
– Watch two average length NFL football games or two MLB Baseball games (or one of each!)
– Watch three average length movies (or four average length Disney films)
– Arrive on time for yesterday’s 3:20 Continental Airlines flight from Charlotte, NC to Newark, NJ and wait for it to take off.
Yes, I’m stuck in an airport. Yes, I’m bored. Yes, I’m blogging my @*%!# head off.
What’s your point?
I’ve been to Disneyworld with my wife and two kids twice in the last two years, and have written quite extensively about it online. Until now, I’ve felt pretty good about my online representation of these trips, but now I’m reading what Lileks’ is writing about his trip (it starts here and continues throughout the week. Just keeping clicking “Next.”)
Here’s how a professional writer expresses exactly what I was feeling, but with such eloquence and wit as to make me want to give up writing anything ever again:
Having spent four days in the realm of the Mouse, you could cut my wrists and I’d bleed Disney Kool-Aid. Because that’s how much I drank. [...]
It’s clean. It’s so clean and perfect you wonder why everything doesn’t look like this. But why is it clean? . . . Why can’t we have cities that look like this, and theme parks full of urban grot for the people who want that authentic experience that graffiti-slathered-metal-shutters represent? [...]
The park isn’t open, so we join the throng of hardcores and neophytes, waiting for . . . what? The answer comes in a few minutes: a train, an actual steam train, appears above, with all the Beloved Licensed and Trademarked Characters leaning out and waving. Including Cindyrelly! A welcome song is sung; everyone waves back (including me, I note – I haven’t even set foot in the place yet and I’m almost weeping at the sight of Goofy.) The music! The architecture! The trains! From the very first moment, it’s like a live wire jammed into your Disney Lobe, a part of your brain that’s been rewiring since you were very small, just so it could release endorphins at this very moment. All that’s missing is Disney himself in a white robe and sandals, carrying a lamb, projected against the sky. If they’d done that I would have bloodied my knees. [...]
The breakfast? The best hotel breakfast ever. They don’t take your order. There’s no point in taking your order, because they know what you want so they might as well bring it. You get a big plate of eggs, bacon, potatoes and sausages, plus tiny Belgian waffles shaped like you-know-who. This is what it means to be an American: pouring syrup on Mickey’s head and eating him. It’s secular communion. [...]
Disney employees seem to come in two flavors: there are those [who] are working . . . for Disney. Whatever. Then there are those who are WORKING for DISNEY! And they just beam because they are having the best day at the best job in the best place ever. There might be some people like that at Microsoft, and grew up with a Bill Gates doll they took everywhere, but they’re few. [...]
Oy. Wow. Yes. Yes, indeed.
Oh, man – this is absolutely pitch perfect. I wish I had the words to express how precisely this encapsulates the feeling of being there. But, of course, if I could do that, I’d have written them myself in the first place. Sigh…
If you’re considering going to Disney (or if you’ve ever been), I implore you to read the whole thing. Then, when you’re done, click over to my pages and laugh at the relative incompetence – my ego needs the pageviews!
My trip to the University of Pennsylvania this weekend, combined with an ensuing business trip, conspired to prevent me from posting my promised weekly ISBS Tech Guide entry for the week. Given that I promised to post every week, I’ve been feeling badly about it. Then again, I don’t think anyone’s rushing to their browser to check the blog on Monday morning and read the next, exciting installment of the ISBS Tech Guide. At best, I hope it’s a good reference for folks in the coming months or years, as it begins to weave itself into the World Wide Web via Google’s massive index.
Since I began publishing the entries back on April 15th, they’ve received 44 pageviews (about 1.5 views per day). The most recent two are averaging more than 3 minutes of viewing time per page, which strikes me as quite high (certainly higher than my site’s average, anyway), suggesting that the entries are useful to those who find them. CNET.com it is not, but in the world of micro-bloggers, I’m pretty happy with those results.
So, I’ll pick up again next weekend. Until then, the suspense will just have to build. And if you are eagerly awaiting the next entry, I apologize – both for your disappointment and the obvious lack of excitement in your life. Seriously, you gotta get out more…
The psychological need to blog about politics seems to be a cyclical thing. Here, I scratch that itch one more time:
On April 15, 2007, a huge nor’easter swept through northern New Jersey, leaving many homeless and causing $180 million in damage. Here’s the (completely unpublicized) response, as per The Star Ledger, a local paper here in New Jersey:
The Federal Emergency Management Agency has approved nearly $7.6 million in disaster assistance for individuals and businesses affected by the April 15 nor’easter, officials said yesterday. As of Monday evening [May 7, 2007], FEMA registered 9,333 applications for assistance in New Jersey, said spokeswoman Barbara Lynch. Some 8,387 homes have been inspected by FEMA and some $6.9 million has already been dispersed through the agency’s housing program alone, Lynch said.
FEMA is currently operating 12 walk-in disaster-recovery assistance centers in 11 counties. To date, FEMA has recorded some 1,500 personal visits to the centers. The center at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Bound Brook, in Somerset County, leads the pack in visits, with 510 visits, Lynch said. Bound Brook is also home to the state’s last shelter for families evacuated from their homes due to the flooding.
At the height of the disaster, the American Red Cross operated 23 shelters housing 2,425 people throughout the state, said spokesman Dan Iradi. As of yesterday, the Presbyterian Church in Bound Brook was the only shelter still operating with some 93 people.
Volunteers from the Red Cross, the Salvation Army and various Christian organizations are providing assistance for flood victims struggling with the cleanup of their homes and businesses. The elderly or overwhelmed are encouraged to dial 211 — an emergency number set up by the state.
The federal Small Business Administration is working with FEMA to offer low-interest loans to affected individuals and businesses. Spokeswoman Bonny Thompson Wright stressed that individuals should not be deterred from applying, noting that historically, 80 percent of SBA loans go to homeowners and renters.
Now, Bound Brook is no New Orleans. We’re talking about just over 10,000 people here, as opposed to 1.3 million. That said, it’s not all that different either: According to Wikipedia, Bound Brook has a median household income of just under $48,000, with roughly 11% of the population living below the poverty line. In Greater New Orleans (circa 2000, or pre-Katrina), the median household income was just over $27,000 and roughly 24% of the families lived below the poverty line.
Note, though, how the coordinated response from local, state and federal agencies (including FEMA), as well as non-government agencies like the Red Cross and faith-based organizations have all but put Bound Brook back on its feet in relatively short order. New Orleans, who’s local and state agencies all but abandoned the people at their time of greatest need, complicating an already complex situation which resulted in FEMA’s total ineffectiveness, is still a mess two years after the fact. Many will ignore examples of success, though, and continue to believe that all of this is because George Bush hates New Orleans residents more than he hates those in Bound Brook…
This from CNN:
Three retired generals challenged a dozen members of Congress in a new ad campaign Wednesday, saying the politicians can’t support President Bush’s policies in Iraq and still expect to win re-election. Other veterans promoted the campaign at a news conference in Manchester, the start of a six-state publicity tour targeting Sens. John Sununu of New Hampshire, Susan Collins of Maine, Norm Coleman of Minnesota and John Warner of Virginia, plus nine House members. All are Republicans.
This cannot be found on CNN:
A petition signed by 2,700 current and former service members in support of continuing U.S. combat operations in Iraq will be turned over to two Republican lawmakers tomorrow in a ceremony at the headquarters of the nation’s largest group of combat veterans. Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, the House Republican leader, and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, will receive the petition, and use the event as another opportunity to criticize Democrats who control the House and Senate for trying to impose a withdrawal timetable on Iraq combat operations.
About 60 percent of the 2,700 signatures on the Appeal For Courage petition come from service members who are serving or have served in Iraq, with about two-thirds enlisted members and one-third officers. The signatures were gathered over about a month. The petition states:
“As an American currently serving my nation in uniform, I respectfully urge my political leaders in Congress to fully support our mission in Iraq and halt any calls for retreat. I also respectfully urge my political leaders to actively oppose media efforts which embolden my enemy while demoralizing American support at home. The War in Iraq is a necessary and just effort to bring freedom to the Middle East and protect America from further attack.”
Regardless of what you think of the war, doesn’t it seem like CNN can’t honestly report on one of these stories without mentioning the other? They happened within two days of each other, and clearly show a wide variety of opinions across the military on our current war strategy.
I’d heard about George Tenet’s new “tell all” book, in which he reportedly slams the Bush administration for lying about the intelligence his CIA gave them leading up to the war in Iraq. I haven’t read the book, nor do I intend to.
It would be great, just once, to hear a former Bush administration official criticize the administration when he hasn’t received a multi-million dollar advance to promote a book, or has at least offered to donate his personal profits from such “introspective confessions” to help families who have experienced loss or injury due to the war. Until that happens, I consider all of these “shocking revelations” as suspect, and I’ll stay away from the books, thank you very much.
All of that said, I did see Tenet on Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show (the news source of choice for discriminating viewers) and I read the above story by Fred Thompson, both of which point to the same thing: Tenet really isn’t slamming the Bush Administration for much at all. He’s telling everyone that the CIA proved a link between Saddam and Al Qaeda, but not between Saddam and the 9/11 plot. He also said that the relationship between Iraq and Al Qaeda was sporadic and ancillary, and that at the time, they really didn’t know how connected the two groups were. He also said that he personally believed that Saddam had WMD when the war began, as did many other intelligence sources (“everybody got it wrong”), suggesting that no one was lying about it, as much as everyone was duped by the Iraqi (mis)information machine.
But this simply won’t do. You can’t sell a “tell all” book if the book suggests that the administration had the best interests of the country at heart, made the best decisions they could given the facts they had, and things just went extremely badly from there. Stewart showed clips of various interviewers lambasting Tenet (sometimes even screaming at him) about what they seem to have pre-determined to be his role in a massive cover-up that led us to war. Many demanded to know why he didn’t resign in the face of such immoral and dishonest behavior by the Bush administration.
It’s like they’re mad at him for not telling the same story they’ve now settled on. The fact that he’s a principal in the story and they’re just reporting on it doesn’t seem to matter in the least. In fact, it seems the order of descending credibility goes: 1) The media’s take on what happened, 2) the marketing spin designed to sell the book, and 3) what George Tenet is actually saying.